By Toby Bridges
Introduced during the mid-1980s, the sabot system allowed hunters to load, shoot and hunt with modern jacketed handgun bullets, like the 300-grain Hornady XTP shown here.
Just 25 years ago, experienced hunters pretty well accepted the maximum effective range of the muzzleloading big game rifle to be about 100 to 125 yards.
Well, not any more. Today’s muzzleloading hunters demand higher velocities and longer range from their rifles. Loaded with a hot blackpowder substitute like Hodgdon’s Triple Seven, most modern inline muzzleloaders are being promoted as honest 200-yard guns.
And when the hunter loads with a bullet that’s every bit as modern as the rifle and powder being shot, some of today’s loads deliver more energy to the target than what many older-style muzzleloading rifles and loads produced at the muzzle!
The plastic-saboted muzzleloader bullet came onto the hunting scene in the mid-1980s, almost simultaneously with the inline rifle. The sabot system allowed performance-minded hunters to load and shoot a wide variety of modern jacketed and lead pistol bullets out of slightly larger-caliber muzzleloader bores.
It didn’t take long for hunters to realize that big jacketed hollowpoint bullets like the 250- or 300-grain Hornady XTP offered vastly improved terminal performance on large game over the soft, pure-lead muzzleloader projectiles of the past.
Hornady’s new polymer-tipped SST incorporates the same bullet making technology the company uses in its SST line of centerfire rifle bullets. The 250-grain SST for the .50 caliber is shown here with Hornady’s Lock-N-Load sabot and Pyrodex Pellets.
Still, even with hot powder charges, hunters were limited to an effective range of about 150 yards. The big flat-faced hollowpoint bullets were about as aerodynamic as a brick. These bullets shed velocity quickly past 100 yards, resulting in a tremendous loss of energy and pronounced bullet drop.
Things have changed a lot since those early days. Over just the past several years, bullet makers have stepped up to the plate with a selection of new designs that turn just about any modern inline rifle into a very effective 200-yard hunting rig.
Knight Rifles’ line of all-copper Red Hot Bullets, introduced during the late 1990s, set the stage for other designs to follow. Produced by Barnes Bullets, several of the Knight bullets got away from the volcanic-crater-sized hollowpoint nose design that had plagued the performance of saboted muzzleloader bullets.
The lighter 180-, 200- and 220-grain Red Hot Bullets were formed with a sleeker, more aerodynamic spitzer-style hollowpoint front that gave this design a higher ballistic coefficient. The sharper point cuts through the air with less resistance, allowing the bullets to better maintain velocity and energy downrange.
One modern saboted bullet I have enjoyed shooting and hunting with recently is the Hornady SST (Super Shock Tip). It is a jacketed lead-core bullet that incorporates much of the same construction found in the Hornady line of SST centerfire bullets, including a jacket that’s thickest at the base and thins toward the front.
The nose of the bullet features a sharp spire-pointed polymer tip that upon impact is forced back into an internal hollow cavity, encouraging proper expansion at muzzleloader velocities. And to keep this bullet from overexpanding and coming apart, Hornady also incorporates its Interlock ring construction. In short, it’s a muzzleloader bullet that’s built like a modern centerfire rifle bullet.
For the popular .50-caliber rifles, Hornady offers the SST in 250- and 300-grain weights, plus a 200-grain bullet for the .45 caliber. I’ve shot all out of a variety of bores with fast 1-in-24 to 1-in-28-inch rifling twist with exceptional accuracy.
One rifle that has performed extremely well for me with the SST is the .50-caliber Thompson/Center Arms Omega. Out of a 28-inch-barreled model with a thumbhole stock, I’ve gotten the 250-grain SST out of the muzzle at around 2,070 fps with a 110-grain charge of FFFg Triple Seven. That’s 2,375 fpe at the muzzle.
The 250-grain SST has a ballistic coefficient of .210, meaning that the load I have been shooting with inch accuracy at 100 yards will still be flying at almost 1,400 fps at 200 yards and will smack a white-tailed buck with nearly 1,100 foot-pounds of retained energy. On the other hand, a 250-grain Hornady XTP hollowpoint, with just a .147 BC, will be pushed from the Omega muzzle at basically the same velocity, but due to the poor aerodynamics, slows much quicker. In fact, by the time the big hollowpoint bullet reaches 200 yards, it slows to around 1,175 fps and retains only about 770 fpe. See how much difference a sharp frontal shape can make in downrange performance?
Precision Rifle Custom Muzzleloader Bullets of Anola, Manitoba, currently produces saboted swaged lead muzzleloader bullets with some of the highest ballistic coefficient ratings. In fact, this company offers several bullets with a BC topping .350.
A relatively new Precision Rifle bullet that is beginning to win over a few shooters is a unique saboted 260-grain .40-caliber bullet and sabot for use in a .50-caliber rifle. At this writing, the manufacturer had not established the BC for this bullet, but comparing it with others in the line with known BCs, Precision Rifle claims it will be between .360 and .370.
I have launched this bullet out of the muzzle of several .50-caliber inline rifles at around 1,980 fps with a 110-grain charge of FFFg Triple Seven. The load generates 2,260 fpe at the muzzle. If we go with the lower .360 BC, that means this bullet will retain a velocity of around 1,775 fps at 100 yards and hit with 1,820 fpe. And, thanks to the sleek, long shape of this polymer-tipped, swaged, .400-inch-diameter lead bullet, it will still be moving along at around 1,580 fps at 200 yards and deliver more than 1,400 foot-pounds of knockdown power.
Reprinted from the December 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine